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Firstly, as International religious freedom report (2008) has noted, the status of respect for religious freedom in every country around the world during the most recent reporting period (July 1, 2007) to (June 30, 2008), our primary focus is to document the actions of governments those that repress religious expression, persecute believers, and tolerate violence against religious minorities, as well as those that protect and promote religious freedom.We also address societal attitudes on religion and religious minorities and record positive and negative actions taken by nongovernmental actors.
At the same time, Belgium’s internal political divisions have come into play in relation to the issue; the lower house of parliament voted in 2010 for a bill to prohibit clothes that do not allow the wearer to be identified (including the burqa and niqab), but a governmental crisis halted the bill before it could become law. The burqa, the hijab and the niqab may have come to be merged in the European psyche, yet these three pieces of cloth are – technically, stylistically and symbolically – completely different things, which individually look and are worn in many variations across Muslim-majority countries.
The burqa covers the full body, with an embroidered opening for the eyes; the niqab is a veil of different colours, often black, covering the nose and the mouth only; the hijab is a scarf covering the head, loose or tight, of all sorts of colours (for instance black in Iran, bright in Malaysia, patterned in Turkey), and wrapped and knotted in different fashions under the neck or behind the head; the jilbab is normally a dark long dress or cloak, going from the head to the feet, usually covering other clothes underneath.
Yet there is also little that is definitive about how this “problem” is defined or the measures taken to “solve” it.
The high-profile parliamentary vote in France is an example.
We strive to report fairly and accurately, with sensitivity to the complexity of religious freedom issues.
Besides those according to international law, freedom of belief and freedom of speech were first declared by global community in Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.
Thus, the French vote is only part of a wider and messier situation. Belgian MPs for their part have since the mid-2000s agreed that the “integral veil” should be banned.
This was the eventual result of a gradual process whereby the hijab became condemned as a form of oppression of women.
But even in cases of real oppression, how useful is a law that forbids the practice of total covering if as a result a woman is confined to the walls of her house?
A number of scholars – Cécile Laborde and Martha Nussbaum among them – rightly hold that forbidding by law a “symbol” of perceived oppression does not equate with solving the oppression problem.